Monday, November 14, 2016

Romanian Folk Dances
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

I. Stick Dance
II. Sash Dance
III. In One Spot
IV. Dance from Bucsum
V. Romanian Polka

VI. Fast Dance

Symphony No. 22 in E- flat major, “The Philosopher”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

I. Adagio
II. Presto

III. Menuet e Trio
IV. Finale: Presto


Symphony No 3, Op. 36, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”
Henryk Górecki (1933 - 2010)

I. Lento - Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile
II. Lento e largo - Tranquillissimo

III. Lento - Cantabile-semplice

Lindsey McKee, soprano



Romanian Folk Dances
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

The “Hungarian style” of music stemmed from gypsies and was thoroughly romanticized. In fact, the style was not representative of authentic Hungarian folk music. This subject, sometimes known as “the problem of Hungarian music” was addressed by many writers and eventually clarified by the extensive work of Bela Bartók and Zoltan Kodály.

Traveling throughout the most remote regions of Hungary, Bartók and Kodály transcribed, saved, recorded on an “Edison” phonograph, and classified thousands of folk songs which provided tunes, rhythms, harmonies, and ideas for their compositions (Bartók’s opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, for example) as well as scholarly monographs and a gigantic set of 12 volumes containing their research. The intent was to provide examples of, foundation for, and a renaissance of authentic Hungarian music.

This quest led both men into Transylvania, now a part of Romania, but which had been part of Hungary for many years until added permanently to Romania in 1920. Thus, we find the legitimacy of Romanian Folk Dances as a source for Hungarian folk style. Bartók noted, “I have collected Hungarian, as well as Slovak and Romanian folk music and used them as models.”

The Romanian Dances were written between 1915-1917, first for piano and later orchestrated. In order, the dances are:

    I. Stick Dance: A solo dance for a young man, which includes kicking the ceiling.

    II. Sash Dance: Derived from a spinning song with dancers holding each other’s waists, it flows directly into the third dance.

    III. In One Spot: A dance in which the participants basically stamp on one spot.

    IV. Dance from Bucsum: Featuring the ancient Mixolydian mode (a type of scale) and Arabian colors.

    V. Romanian Polka: A children’s dance with changing meters, flowing directly into the final dance.

    VI. Fast Dance: Fast, tiny steps are performed by couples, used as a courting dance.

Symphony No. 22 in E- flat major, “The Philosopher”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

The composition date of 1764 appears on the autograph manuscript. Haydn composed the work during his tenure as Vice-Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. As Vice-Kapellmeister, Haydn was in charge of all but religious music in the Esterházy household; in particular he was the leader of the orchestra and was expected to compose symphonies for it to perform. This ensemble numbered about 15 players. The intended audience (except on special occasions such as the Prince’s name day) consisted only of the Prince and his guests.

The name ( the Philosopher ) is not on the original manuscript and is unlikely to come from Haydn himself. Le Philosoph appears on a manuscript copy of the symphony found in Modena dated 1790; thus the nickname dates from the composer’s own lifetime. The title is thought to derive from the melody and counterpoint of the first movement (between the horns and English horns), which musically allude to a question followed by an answer and paralleling the disputation system of debate. The piece’s use of a muted tick-tock effect also evokes the image of a philosopher deep in thought while time passes by. The nickname becomes less appropriate as the symphony proceeds and earnestness gives way to high spirits.

Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”
Henryk Górecki (1933 - 2010)

Górecki’s, Symphony No. 3 – the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, now so often played in newscasts to accompany terrible suffering or to accompany grisly images, is, at first glance, an odd contender for one of the most popular pieces of contemporary music in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Its three movements are all marked ‘Lento’ – slow – and the composer sets texts from fifteenth century psalms, Polish folk songs and a piece of graffiti from a World War II Gestapo prison.

Many commentators attribute the success of this work, and its ability to affect so many listeners, to its preoccupation with sonority. In it, Górecki explores the potentials of sound itself. This is perhaps nowhere as apparent as in his treatment of the soprano voice. Pouring forth in beautiful arcs of sound, the human voice sits in counterpoint to the orchestra, creating chasms that can be filled with grief, despair or radiant resignation. And the composer understands the qualities of balance and proportion. The vocal line very rarely overwhelms the orchestra, nor is it a constant presence. Rather, it seems to emerge from the ensemble at the required moment and gently relinquish her hold when that moment has passed.

Such a delicate balance of sound and effect creates a work that is not, in fact, a torrent of sadness, but a work that is lustrous in its complexity and richness. This preponderance of stillness and atmosphere of profound reflection often sees this work categorized in the school of ‘new minimalism’ or ‘mystical minimalism’. However, any commentary that drew connections between this work and the ‘new age’ movement of the nineties irked the composer. Górecki was also quick to dismiss any reading of the work as specifically about World War II and Poland. Rather, the texts set in each movement, although from different sources, all examine the figure of the mother, the child and death.

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